Help Me, LAPTOP: I Need to Buy a Budget Notebook

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Though the best laptops on the market usually cost over $800, the average U.S. consumer spends $450 or less on a new notebook. A couple of our readers, Dante_12 and freiord, posted to our forums, asking for help choosing a new budget notebook. Freiord posted about looking for any 13-, 14- or 15-inch mainstream laptop under $500, while Dante_12 posted about two very inexpensive ($300-range) laptops.

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To understand what makes for a good budget consumer laptop, we first need to talk about some of the key components that make a good notebook that sells at a more expensive price. Because if you can find one or more of these features on a low-cost laptop, you're way ahead of the game. I've put these in priority order, from most to least important.

  • 1920 x 1080 (1080p) screen: The vast majority of budget laptops come with 1366 x 768-resolution screens that aren't very sharp and don't fit much content on the desktop. If you can get a laptop with a 1920 x 1080 (also known as 1080 or full-HD) resolution display you can see a lot more text on the screen without scrolling. You can also comfortably place two windows side by side for multitasking and see a lot more detail in videos. If you can get a laptop with a 1080p screen, that should be your top priority.
  • Solid-state storage: Most low-cost laptops use mechanical hard drives, but if you can get a system with a solid-state drive (SSD) or eMMC memory, you'll see faster boot and application-open times, and better overall performance. In the sub-$500 range, you'll probably see a few systems with eMMC memory rather than a speedy SSD, but you'll still get much better performance than you would with a 5,400- or 7,200-rpm hard drive.
  • Premium build quality: Manufacturers usually economize on the fit and finish of low-cost laptops, using cheap plastic rather than metal or soft-touch materials. If you can get a more premium feel on your budget laptop, that's a plus.
  • Core i5 CPU: An Intel Core i5 CPU gives the best balance between price and performance, but you're not likely to find one of these processors on a budget laptop. However, for users who aren't doing a lot of productivity work or gaming, a Core i3 or Pentium or Celeron CPU can more than suffice.

Now that we know what to look for, let's check out some budget laptops that have a few of these features.

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on